They Say Gentrify . . . We Say Occupy!

Across the country, buildings and houses are boarded up, idle, and empty. At the same time, the need for decent, affordable housing is as great as ever. Talk about frustrating. So what’s a community to do? In New York City, one organization is taking a stand against building abandonment and gentrification, using the power of protest and organizing to take over an abandoned building to house the city’s homeless.

Picture the Homeless is a homeless advocacy group run "by the homeless, for the homeless." Earlier this week, they decided to take back a vacant building in El Barrio/East Harlem to protest the blight accompanying abandoned buildings in their community while finding places for their homeless to live. 

Here’s what Picture the Homeless Board Member Jean Rise had to say about the demonstration (in an audio statement):

It’s time for New Yorkers to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. We’re going to liberate some of these city-held properties, to bring attention to the fact that the city is not setting a proper example for the landlords who are holding these buildings inabeyance in the face of record level homelessness in our city. This is our contribution to a nation-wide effort to house the homeless of the United States of America.

The "building takeover" happened yesterday, with hundreds of supporters holding a solidarity rally on the sidewalk right outside. Unfortunately, the building was determined to be unsafe for human habitation. Here’s an update from the Picture the Homeless blog:

Upon seizing control of the property, the occupiers determined that the building was structurally unsound, with a roof cave-in and significant floor damage, and that it was not safe to remain inside the building (earlier attempts to gain entrance to the building to assess the conditions had resulted in immediate unwanted police attention). The takeover crew left the building to join a crowd of hundreds of supporters who had braved the rain to hold a solidarity rally outside.

Although the building takeover didn’t materialize as hoped, the group is not resting just yet. Starting Friday night at 7pm, PTH will be transforming the sidewalk in front of this building into a community center to demonstrate one of the good reuse possibilities for this abandoned building. Learn more details here

I hope the energy to take back the neighborhood doesn’t fizzle out anytime soon. When the solution to a growing problem like homelessness is sitting right in your neighborhood- vacant- action must be taken. It’s a fight worth waging, and I’m glad Picture the Homeless has on this issue head on.

I hope Picture the Homeless will look to successful initiatives like the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative for inspiration:

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) is a nonprofit community-based planning and organizing entity rooted in the Roxbury/North Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston. It was formed in 1984 when residents of the Dudley Street area came together out of fear and anger to revive their neighborhood that was devastated by arson, disinvestment, neglect and redlining practices, and protect it from outside speculators.

Stay tuned…

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